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1 Cor. IX. 27. '' But I keep under my body, and Iring it into tuhjeetum: kit that ly any means, when I have preaehed to otherif I myself should he a castaway. ^^
There is an Eastern apologue which describes the manner of beasts of burden in their passage through the desert. The ass, with head bent down« and eyes fixed on the ground, minutely watches every step of the road, and yet stumbles continually; the camel, with head erect, and gaze fixed on the distant horizon, stumbles never. The parable is easily read. The high ideal is better through life than the code of rules. The noble purpose animates and sustains the character, creates in us an instinct capable of appli-
THE CHRISTIA IDEAL. 169 cation to every particular perplexity that may arise in our daily path; it unifies the whole beings concentrates all the powers under the leadership of some grand aim^ some great passion; whereas a code of rules distracts the mind ; they have no power to confer any strength on it, they can give no instruction for anything not foreseen ; having, at best, power to create a habit, but never to form a character ; and God wills not so much that we should do, but that we should be. The Christian life is an unspeakably noble life, and just because it is such, can only be developed in an atmosphere of liberty. Where the Spirit of the Lord m, there is liberty. It is to be remembered, brethren, that the Christian life needs this liberty, and is of this noble, exalted nature, specially when we come to questions of self-discipline, the thoughts that belong to this Lenten season.
"We think of our exceeding sinfulness, of the need there is of humbling ourselves before God, of our daily dying : then there is reason to remind ourselves of the high free character and of the nobility stamped on the Christian life by God Himself. Thank God, there is in our Prayer Book abundant recognition of our wants before God ; almost in the first words there is confession of sin ; and so in the Litany we pour out our hearts before Him, calling ourselves " miserable sinners " (the word miserable signifying pitiable, not necessarily un-
170 THE CHRISTIA IDEAL. happy) ; and so in the Collects we read during Lent we acknowledge our tvretchedness (not necessarily alluding to our feeling about it, but simply stating a fact) ; and even in the Holy Communion, as we shall presently be making our confession before God, we shall exclaim, ''we acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness,'* &c. ; and in the Commination Service, with which we began this season, we own ourselves to be vile : there seems no name too lowly, too contemptible, to be attached to us. So in our hymns, that every truly Christian heart delights in, do we confess our vileness ; for instance, in that beginning " Bock of Ages," or, " There is a fountain filled with blood,'' in which hymns we compare ourselves to the dying thief, and acknowledge ourselves no better than he. ow, this sort of self-depreciation, and this sort of acknowledgment of our sinfulness, is exceedingly distasteful to some. They think it impossible to associate it with any kind of nobility of life ; but that if we are to be true to the spirit of these words, we ought to live in some miserable fashion ; we ought to deny ourselves many reasonable pleasures, and to adopt some Puritan kind of asceticism. But, brethren, the truth is, that the nobility of the Christian life is not only consistent with this humbling of ourselves before God, but is dependent on it ; it comes from the free grace of God which alone
THE CHRISTIA IDEAL. 171
shows US our sinfulness ; the two things are mutually inclusive. If God's grace is to rule in us, it must be by penitence, and the confession of the utter need of our nature before God ; it is only on this groxmd of penitence that the happy flower of joy can exist. But then, brethren, just because it is so, we are not to make this confession of sin an excuse for a life of wretchedness, for a life small and feeble in the power of Christ ; we are not to go about complaining of our want of faith as if there were something lowly, something commendable, in calling ourselves by these depreciating names ; as if in them there were any excuse for failing in the great and holy life set forth to us. If the Apostle spoke of bearing in his body the dying of the Lord Jesus, it was not that he might be as miserable as his sins deserved, but that there might be room for the great things of the spiritual life, room for the power of Christ to rest upon him and dwell within him (2 Cor. iv. 10). In our text, and in the passage preceding it, there is recognition of the rigorous self-discipline needful in the spiritual life ; but even, side by side with it, is the nobility, the grand aim which explains this rigor, and takes from it all reproach of meanness and smallness, which animates us to undertake it, and crowns it with a kind of glory. This chapter is full of important teaching, but if we
172 THE CHRISTIA IDEAL. are to see its place in the Apostle's argument, it is necessary to see what came before, and what follows. The question had been raised in Corinth of meats offered to idols ; if such were placed before a convert) should he eat or should he abstain P This question represents, in its own form, certain familiar questions amongst us with which we all have to do. This Churcli of Corinth was not a fiercely persecuted Church ; the people of Corinth were too clever, too philosophical, too little in earnest to persecute the Christians ; they were, in fact, very willing to tolerate a new school of theology
in their midst, so long as the Christians tolerated them. Thus, the Church had free intercourse with the Corinthians outside, and might often be placed in such circumstances as would make this question practical for them. They might be invited to a feast, and meat might be placed before them, the host not caring in the least whether it had been sacrificed to idols or not ; and so the question would arise, " What ought the Christian to do in such a case ? *' Some there were of weak conscience who would say, " It is wrong to touch meat offered to idols ; we are associating ourselves with idol worship, and subjecting ourselves to the heavy censure of the Christian Church, whether we know it or not." On the other hand, there were others of strong conscience who would say, '' An idol is nothing in the world,'* and if we refuse to partake of this meat, we
THE CHRISTIA IDEAIi. 173 give importance to a question which has none of its own. Such questions^ in another form and shape, continually present themselves to us in the course of the Christian life ; some pursuit or amusement, or line of conduct, which seems doubtful. They that are weak say, "Abstain altogether from these doubtful things;" they that are strong say, " If you keep yourself apart, and refuse to mix in these things, you acknowledge that they are evil; while if rightly used, they are innocent and good.'' Give up these things into the region of evil, and you alienate what you ought to have redeemed for good ; mix in them and you may exert a good influence. Thus men reason one with another. How does St. Paul reason P And first, let us see what he does not say in treating of this question. Four years before there had been assembled in Jerusalem a great council of the Apostles and Elders, with Paul and Barnabas, on account of the opposition which had been made to St. Paul's way of treating Gentile converts in regard to circumcision. The account of this is given in Acts xv., where we read of the decision which was solemnly arrived at, embodied in a letter which was sent to the Churches. In verses
28 and 29, we read, For it seemed good to the Holy Ohoat^ and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things, that ye abstain from meat offered
174 THE CHRISTIA IDEAL. to idols, 8fc. " ow, that had occurred about four years before, and that was the decision of the Holy Ghost and of the Apostles ; how easily, then, Paul might have begun and finished his answer to this question at Corinth by the authority of the sentence pronounced but four years before P But he does not even allude to the Council at Jerusalem ; he goes afresh into the whole question. There are some, in these days, who would gladly have deferred to it, who would have embraced such an opportunity of uniting all the Churches under one discipline; would also have welcomed the thought of a blind obedience to the supreme decree which the Spirit of God had laid down ; would even have found additional merit in it. But St. Paul was not of this school of thought. We may, I think, discover two reasons for his silence about the Council. The question there discussed was between Jews and Gentiles, whereas this at Corinth was between Gentile and Gentile. Again, St. Paul does not desire their obedience so much as their life and character ; he desires that they should be intelligent, loyal-hearted followers of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself; he desires to see established a living body of saints full of the love of God, and living godly lives in the midst of this evil world. So he will re-open the question, and will go into it and set it before them in such sort that the freedom of their
THE CHRISTIA IDEAL. 175 spiritual life shall not be bound by any nearer rule than the law of love. So he proceeds with Lis instructions. He says that an idol is nothing in the world ; the whole meaning of the question lies in other circumstances than these. " Thy conscience is not bound by another man's opinion ; eat, therefore, freely and without ques-
tion, unless your so doing will injure another. If there be present at your feasts a weak brother who cannot eat the food without some violence to his feelings, then abstain, not for your own sake, but for his. Again, if there be some brethren present likely to be offended by your eating the meat, abstain ; acting according to the light controlled by charity." That is what he will have ; and then he says, there is yet a higher ground to take than this — just as later on in this Epistle, speaking about gifts, he says, Tet show I unto you a more excellent way — a higher rule, which goes beyond all these questions ; and this more excellent way he illustrates by his own character, as we have it set forth in the chapter from which our text is taken. The whole force of his argument lies in this: "I, Paul, do so and so ; am I not an Apostle ? May I not marry and support myself and family on your contributions as other Apostles ? Tet I do none of these things ; I do not claim anything from you ; I have even robbed other Churches that I might not be chargeable to you.'* He will endure all things rather than take aught
176 THE CHRISTIA IDEAL. from these converts ; lie will not assert his rights. Why ? Because there lies before him a great aim, a grand object, which justifies him in laying down this rule for his conduct ; and he sets forth that there is in his heart a great enthusiasm, a splendid purpose, which carries him high above the level of these things; a goal set before him high and far away, and until he reach it, howsoever high, howsoever far away it be, he is monopolized altogether by it. Look at your games in which you all take part ; see the racer setting forth well prepared, with his eye fixed on the goal; he is controlled by one mastering thought ; he takes no uncertain step, but every step goes straight forward ; he moves in an undeviating path, admits no other thought, no other interest for the moment ; he has one set, deliberate purpose ; whatever others do, he is not affected by it; whoever applauds, whoever hisses, he heeds it not till the goal is reached, and he is crowned with victory. So I, Paul, run, not as uncertainly. Look at the still severer contest of the boxer ; see him,
who is to take part in it, carefully prepared beforehand for the encoimter ; see how he aims directly, nothing baffles him or tempts him to spare self or foe ; see him striking directly with all his might till the foe be vanquished and himself be victor. So fight I, PauL Be ye followers of me, as I am of Christ. He would say, if I, Paul, who have come to you living this
THE CHRISTIA IDEAL. 177 Christian life, I who have seen the Lord Jesus, I who have been lifted up to the third heaven and seen His glory, if /, Paul, so live, how then ought ye to live P Set before you this one aim, this great idea. Let your whole soul be animated by this great purpose till the end come, and ye be winners in the strife. So he sums up the whole story in that last verse ; But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection. Keep under has a peculiar significance; it means to strike the face beneath the eye, and so to subdue without sparing — to enslave the body, making it thoroughly obedient to his purpose ; lest when I have made proclamation (as a herald in the course) I should myself be rejected and disapproved. This, then, is the manner of his conduct. By the word body he plainly means, not merely his bodily frame, but all these rights which he might lawfully accept, were it not for this great aim which he has set before him. He would say, " So high and so ndble is the prospect before me that I count all things but loss that I may win Christ : so bright and so glorious is it that, for the sake of it, I can trample down everything which comes between." This is the right position for the Christian: let him be full of the great purpose God has set before him ; let him sustain himself with the thought of the prize of the high calling in Christ Jesus; and then these questions will be easily answered ; then will he be no longer entangled with —
178 THE CHRISTIA IDEAL.
" May I do this or that P '* One great resolve will carry straight through to the goal set before him. This word, lest 7, indicates no fear on the part of St. Paul that he should be a castaway: it is the distrust of himself, the acknowledgment that evil is still present within him ; it is the distrust of himself that comes out in those words: Let him that thinkeih he standeth take heed lest he fall. I, Paul, am not less sinful, less liable to temptation than others; all the privileges I have, all the high things I have enjoyed in Christ Jesus, only lead me to cling more completely to Him, and more entirely to distrust myself. We know from these Epistles that he was filled with love to Christ, and that this was his happy bondage (2 Cor. v. 14). It was a sweet, high, holy impulse that constrained St. Paul ; but, through the midst of it, he felt an evil nature still clinging to him ; so he would give himself no rest, no pause, but would still press on till the goal was won. Ko advance he had made, no height of glory to which he had attained, would justify him in giving place to one thought of sin, that so, in the day of Jesus, he should be crowned, and not rejected. So he says to us : risk nothing ; remember the evil that is within and around you; remember the high prize set before you ; remember the blood of Jesus shed for you ; give your whole heart to Him ; remember He
THE CHRISTIA IDEAL. 179 is a Person to love, a Person that can be grieved; remember He has a heart to yearn over you, to blame you ; let His love constrain you. So, press forward till the goal be won.
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